I had a post planned for this evening, but it has been sidelined after I spent a few minutes reading the #IDidNotReport tweets on Twitter. Reading and thinking about all the women out there who have endured acts of sexual assault and harrassment, but who for a variety of reasons were never able to report what happened to them.
It is confronting to read that so many women never felt they had the option of reporting what happened to them – that they wouldn’t be heard, that they wouldn’t be believed, that it wouldn’t be considered a crime.
Even sadder, the women who didn’t report because they had tried to report in the past and hadn’t been taken seriously. I think that those tweets are the most upsetting. That those women, some only children or teens at the time, were brave enough to speak out and were ignored, laughed at or belittled. Little wonder they were unwilling to risk being vulnerable again.
This isn’t just about women being vulnerable. It is about both genders treating each other with respect and it is about us, as a society, making sure that the victims of sexual crimes, both male and female, are able to feel safe coming forward to report what has happened to them.
I feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of women who haven’t reported what happened to them, but I am not judging them. I don’t judge, because I have my own #IDidNotReport memory and because I understand that sometimes, not reporting is the only way to protect shattered emotions.
I can’t speak for the hundreds of women who have tweeted their #IDidNotReport story. I can only say that I didn’t speak up because I was sure I wouldn’t be believed. For a long time, I found it hard to believe it myself and had almost convinced myself that the act was consensual. But it wasn’t.
It didn’t help that not long after the assault, I was part of a conversation where someone (an older male) stated that they didn’t believe that date rape was really possible. Women who said yes, then no shouldn’t be surprised that men got confused and shouldn’t complain since they were part of the problem. I wish I’d spoken up then. I tried, but I wasn’t brave enough to tell my own story. I argued in general terms and when I was refuted, I stopped trying to argue my point at all.
Years later, I no longer feel like a victim. What happened to me was never reported, but living with it, processing it, being honest about it to myself and to others when the topic has come up, has made me stronger and, I hope, more empathetic to the experiences of others.
I hope #IDidNotReport has raised awareness of not only how many women are assaulted, but why those women feel that they are unable to come forward and report what has happened to them. I also hope and pray that for the many who have been brave enough to step forward and tell their story, however briefly, that they will find release in speaking out and comfort in the support and understanding that is being offered by so many.
If you need to access information or support services related to sexual crimes, this NSW Government Help for Victims of Sexual Assault page has links to support and counseling services as well as information on reporting sexual crimes. For an account of the background to the #IDidNotReport hashtag, read this Sydney Morning Herald article by Sam de Brito.